A Few Thoughts from Bren
I found this in my notebook — God is not resigned to losing anybody. There was no indication where it came from. Usually, I jot down the name of the book and the page number when recording notes, but there was nothing there. I don’t think I am the author so, “Good author, though I don’t know your name you captured my attention and imagination and sent me looking.” I knew I had read a similar sentiment about God somewhere in Clarence Jordan’s writing. I found it in “The Father’s Pursuing Love” in The Substance of Faith, a collection of Jordan’s sermons. I highly recommend the book.
What if God’s pursuit of us is not limited by space and time? What if the redemptive process does not stop even with death? Clarence admits that “we’re on very uncertain ground here,” but he does go on to use Scriptural references for his musings.
What is the nature of God? Jesus came to give us insight into that nature. He may have asked [and still asks], “You hear what I am teaching you? You see what I am demonstrating for you?”
Clarence points to three parables in chapter 15 in Luke’s Gospel to underscore more about God’s nature. What does the shepherd do when he loses one of his hundred sheep? He looks for her. How long does he look for her? He looks for her until he finds her.
How about the woman who had ten coins, but lost one? She picks up her broom, lights a lamp and sweeps “until she wears out her broom, until the lamp went out, until her husband came home.” Does she quit sweeping to make her husband and herself something to eat? No. She keeps sweeping until she finds that coin.
The third is the familiar The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Clarence suggests that we call it The Parable of the Father’s All Pursuing Love. In Jesus’ culture, a son could ask for his inheritance ahead of his father’s death. If given, the father was then dead to the son even though he was very much physically alive. The son, too, was dead to the father — the relationship was broken. What does the father do in this parable? He waits. And, against all cultural norms, when the son comes home the father declares him alive. How long does the father wait? He waits until the son comes home.
God is the shepherd, the woman, and the father. God seeks the sheep, searches for the coin, and waits for his “dead” child. Clarence goes on, “Doesn’t [this] say to us that God in his relationship to us is not bound by time and circumstances?” Then he points to First Peter where between the crucifixion and the resurrection, Christ descends into Hades and preached to the people there. Clarence asks, “Why would he preach to them if there was no chance for their redemption?”
“This is what the resurrection is trying to say to us — that the grave is not the final answer. The grave has been swallowed up in victory, death has lost its sting,” writes Clarence.
My heart fills to overflowing when I think of being loved like this. My heart fills to overflowing that this is the nature of the Creator of the universe. Like Clarence, I’d like “to be an implement in God’s hand, an agent of his in shedding his love abroad to people.” I’m imperfect at it, but there is something about the collective at Koinonia through the years that has been just such an implement. People come here and feel, if only for a bit, this pursuing love of God. I think they get an inkling of it not being “the will of God that any should perish.” Perhaps they go from this place loving their neighbors and their enemies just a little bit more. Maybe they go from this place knowing a little bit more about God’s nature.
Let it be so.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
Aristotle wrote, “beauty occurs when all parts work together in harmony so that no one part draws unjust attention to itself” and “the chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness.”
My recent trip to Italy has me reflecting on beauty and what an important spiritual food it is. I got to see so much beauty — frescoes, sculptures, paintings, architecture, music, fountains, Michelangelo’s The Pieta, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, even the Roman Colosseum though some horrible things happened within it. I experienced beauty and was nourished by it
Beauty opens a door and invites you in.
It doesn’t have to be physical beauty. When I visited Koinonia for the first time, there were buildings in need of repair and a coat of paint here and there would have helped. Nonetheless, I remember thinking “this is beautiful.” Maybe it was those few minutes spent in the museum hearing Ellie Castles’ story about the commitment of the members in the early days. Perhaps it was the far off glimpse of the pecan orchards — we had no time that day to go for a walk among the trees.
This encounter with something beautiful led me to read Clarence Jordan’s books and to listen to his recordings. I was fed.
A writer I admire, Robert Barron, offers that of the ultimate values — beauty, goodness and truth — beauty is the most powerful, the most alluring, the most winsome, and can draw us in. When it does, then one can move from beauty to the good and then to the true. Beauty can open the heart so one can come to know goodness and truth.
I confess that too often I am distracted and don’t see the beauty around me. But I have returned from my trip desiring a steady diet of beauty. I live at a beautiful place. Fine works of literature fill our library. We sing often. I want to be aware of the beauty of the lyrics and hear the beauty of the melody. I want to take long, slow walks through the pecan orchards more frequently or I simply want to stand in our garden and watch the organic vegetables grow.
And the incredible people who come here … I want to be more aware of who inspires me and let their inspiration work on me. Just last week we had 47 young people from the Bruderhof Foxhill Community visit us. They were full of joy and their work ethic left us speechless. They had talents and gifts and freely gave of themselves. They were beautiful.
I have come home with my mind on beauty and how we all can thrive from this spiritual food. Who inspires you? Do you look for beauty? What feeds your spiritual life? What is beautiful to you? How can we incorporate beauty into our everyday lives, in big ways and small ways, so we may be fed and come to know goodness and truth? We are starving and we need food — good, wholesome, spiritual food. May beauty fill us up. May it spur us on to goodness, truth, and a full life.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
Elizabeth is away this week so I’ve had the chance to facilitate the intern study sessions. I’ve enjoyed every minute. It has been a while since I’ve been able to be with the interns as they discuss their readings. In four different sessions, the interns and I have talked about hospitality to the stranger, Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, non-violence and God’s economy.
In Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s God’s Economy: Redefining the Health & Wealth Gospel, he writes about subversive service. We serve subversively when we take seriously Jesus’ example — he came to serve not to be served. Our culture sets us on our way to climb ladders, to get ahead, to build up treasures and too often we are taught or at least see around us that “becoming great means making someone else small.”
Wilson-Hartgrove shares an interesting take on Jesus reprimanding the disciples for turning the children away. Children were worthless in the ancient household economy. But, to Jesus, the children were worthy of being served and taking their place in his lap and by his side. It is the small, the weak, the blind, the lame, the widow, the stranger, and what our world is quick to call the worthless that Jesus served and so we are to do the same.
As Wilson-Hartgrove writes, “Jesus didn’t aspire to fix the system or to overthrow it [the ancient household economy]. He submitted himself to people in simple service in order to show us a better way. Jesus offers this tactic: we usher in a new way by subversively submitting to others in the twisted economy that is all around us.”
It makes me think that we should rename the internship the Internship in Subversive Service. Interns come alongside us to welcome and serve people. This service is mostly in small ways: a smile, a meal, a clean room in which to stay, a quiet conversation … it occurs to me that the smaller the service, the more subversive it is. Every person is hungry, maybe not physically hungry, but hungry. Every single person is worthy of attention. It also occurs to me that if each of us submits ourselves in simple service then everyone is being served. Everyone is lifted and — using words our culture likes — everyone wins.
Many interns have come through the farm. I am in touch with a lot of them. There have been weddings and babies coming into the world. There was even a birthday party this last weekend in Virginia — Katie and Wyatt Miles who were interns during the spring term of 2014 turned 30. A couple of us got to go celebrate with them. Katie and Wyatt welcomed about fifty guests. We were from all over, of varying ages, various religions, and from all walks of life. For a party favor we got to choose from a stack of well used books — books that were some of Katie and Wyatt’s favorites. There was a personal note in each. We, of course, enjoyed delicious food, played games, and danced. Some of us even got to spend the night. I recognized their hospitality. It felt like home.
I like staying in touch. It helps me know that subversive service is spreading. That brings a smile to my face and adds a jolt of joy to my heart.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
“(God) has never learned to deal in fractions.” — Clarence Jordan
Our oldest son was born with a non-life threatening condition that would require surgery. The medical professionals told us it could wait until he was older. He was not quite two when we drove to the hospital for the scheduled procedure. There is one image from that day that still breaks my heart. These last several weeks that image has haunted me.
It was not comfortable seeing our active little boy lying there. The anesthesia had worked quickly. But for some reason, no one came to take him to the operating room where, of course, we would not be allowed to go. I began to worry he would wake up. And he did.
He began to stir so I rubbed his back hoping against hope that he would fall back to sleep. It didn’t work. He sat up just as the two surgical nurses came into the room. They were both friendly and one picked him up surprised that he was awake. She called him by the wrong name as she carried him away from us and into the operating room. He was reaching over her shoulder, crying, calling for me. She kept telling him he would be all right and kept calling him by the wrong name. It wasn’t her fault – we called him by his middle name. I was sobbing so hard I could not correct her. “His name is Dillon. Not Andy. His name is Andrew Dillon. Not Andy. Dillon.” I could not stop crying until long after my baby had been returned to the recovery room.
It is real for me what is happening on the U.S. border. I know the terror, the panic, the helplessness, the unbearable sorrow of being separated from my child. I know the look of my little boy reaching for me, crying “mommy” and how it felt when I could not rush to him and take him into my arms. I know all this, but I knew where he was going and that he would come back. And I had not fled from any horror to get my child and myself to safety. I spoke the same language as the nurses and the doctors.
Hearts are big at Koinonia. We are not a large group — sometimes we have more interns at the farm than members. Always we have far more visitors. We pray and we serve. We do what we can with the people we have and most of the time there is a peace in that. That peace has been shaken in recent weeks. As we reflect on what Clarence said- “Every little human being in this world is part of God’s set”- we can’t help but wonder if we could be doing more to show people with words and deeds the truth of Clarence’s words … and Jesus’ words. I don’t know for certain what more we can do for the children and their parents were there more communal members at the farm. What I do know is we sure could use a few more people with big hearts to join us, to grow deep roots, to pray, to serve, and to live out their lives loving neighbors with us.
There is much to be done.
“All truth, by whomever it is spoken, comes from the Holy Spirit.” — Thomas Aquinas
With no trees decked with ornaments and lights, no sunrise services or eggs hidden for children to scurry to find, Pentecost may be one of the most subdued days in the church’s year. Despite arriving on a violent wind and sending forth tongues of fire giving the disciples a voice that could not be contained, the Spirit is seemingly the quietest member of the Trinity. In scripture, the Father speaks often, and, of course, so does Jesus the Son, but we are hard-pressed to find famous quotes from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is surprisingly low key … or is that so?
Jesus calls the Spirit the “Paraclete” — “the one who comes to our aid.” Another meaning is “called to be with us.” When the Paraclete descended on the disciples, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” and the church was born [Acts 2:1-6]. And the Spirit continues to come to our aid so both individuals and the body of Christ the church may be born again and again and again. The spiritual life is something to be lived and practiced day in and day out. The spiritual life is work. It is good we have a Paraclete.
The presence of the Spirit is tangible at Koinonia Farm. I struggle to put into words what I mean — I fear that words will make it far less than it is. Many people sense something out of the ordinary when they come here. I know I did. Perhaps it’s because for more than 75 years, the people making this way of life their own have raised the voices of their souls in a constant cry for the Spirit. An invitation has been extended without ceasing. The Holy Spirit is always working, always with us, but yet, in another sense, has to be invited. To be filled with the Spirit, we must make space within us for the Spirit. I am grateful for all those who came before us who made room and extended the invitation. I urge those of us here now to continue calling on the Spirit.
The same Paraclete that is present with us was on Jesus. He broke the good news to the poor, proclaimed freedom for the oppressed, gave sight to the blind, helped those grievously insulted find dignity and ushered in the Lord’s new era. Hearts open, minds open when we open to the Holy Spirit. Truth and good comes if we live a life that says, “Come, Holy Spirit, come.”
A Few Thoughts from Bren
If you heard about, read about or visited Koinonia Farm between 1999 and 2009, you likely know who David and Ellie Castle are and the positive impact they have had on this community. A group of us happily traveled to Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania recently to celebrate Ellie’s 90th birthday. She is as energetic, quick-witted, and inspiring as she has always been. Ten years ago, when we celebrated her 80th birthday, David was still alive and it was hard to imagine Koinonia without them. Later that same year David passed (he is buried on Picnic Hill here) and in 2009, Ellie moved away to be near their children. We miss them.
In agriculture, a demonstration plot is a way to teach or experiment with new farming methods. The Jordans and the Englands used the phrase when describing Koinonia as “a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God” and “an experiment in Christian living.” It is clear that a demonstration plot must have other demonstration plots from which to learn. David and Ellie were and continue to be just that for us..
From Ellie’s party, we drove to Farmington, Pennsylvania to spend a few days at New Meadow Run Bruderhof Community. Koinonia and the Bruderhof have a history together that began in the 1940s. When Bruderhof members came from Paraguay (via Germany then England; learn their story at www.bruderhof.org) to explore moving to the United States, Koinonia served as a place of welcome and support. When Koinonia suffered persecution in the 50s and 60s, the Bruderhof offered help and refuge. Several of the families fleeing the violence heaped on Koinonia became members of the Bruderhof.
For a period of time — almost twenty years — our communities lost touch, but in 2011 we were reunited. Come to Koinonia today and you will likely see Bruderhof in our midst pitching in to help do whatever is needed. The “doing” for one another is meaningful, but it is the “being” with one another that brings us ever closer together. The relationships deepen through our visits, conversations, questions, cards, letters and we are being shaped and transformed by our mutual encouragement of one another. The Bruderhof is a demonstration plot for Koinonia.
Today so many of us don’t remain in a place and with a people long enough for them to take deep root in us. We all need demonstration plots. My hope for us all is that we find them, spend time with them and allow who they are — and maybe sometimes what they say and do —- to prep our hearts. We all need those who preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.
But you, brothers of mine, hold on till the Lord’s movement gets going. Look how the farmer awaits the precious harvest of his land, staying by it until it receives both spring and summer rains. You, too, hold on and prep your hearts, because the Lord’s movement is right here. — The Cotton Patch Gospel, James 5
The Castles and the Bruderhof are our spring and summer rains.
A Few Thoughts From Bren
It’s Holy Week. In a Holy Week past someone said to me, “It’s just another week. I don’t feel anything.” I found myself responding – and what I said surprised me – “It was just another week to me, too, until I decided it wasn’t going to be.” The decision isn’t one I make once and it’s done. This Easter mindset is a decision to make over and over and over again. I choose to practice faith even when my faith falters. I choose to invite faith to permeate me even when cynicism threatens to take hold.
We intentionally gather as disciples. We share the stories of the first followers of Jesus. We feel their bewilderment as we do our own. We acknowledge their doubt, as we are honest about our own. We face their uncertainty as we admit our own. We can be helped to see and believe by looking through their eyes and by looking through their faith. We can do the same by looking at the lives of those throughout history who have taken Jesus seriously. This was made very real to me as I witnessed the gathering at the Koinonia Family Reunion and Koinonia’s 75th Birthday Party that culminated the Symposium. I stood in awe of those people who came before us reuniting in fellowship. Their presence enkindled the fire of belief in us.
Easter is more than a beautiful spring festival, but Easter won’t force itself on us. Easter can change us, make us different and make us new, but we have to invite it in and allow it to permeate our very being.
Shane Claiborne and I co-presented a pre-symposium workshop on community at the recent Clarence Jordan Symposium. I am always learning from Shane. As I listened to him, I was reminded of something he wrote, “The Jesus revolution is not a frontal attack on the empires of this world. It is a subtle contagion, spreading one little life, one little hospitality house at a time.”
I’m also reminded of what Shane wrote about mustard. Mustard was the kudzu of Jesus’ time and people didn’t like it. But in the Roman Empire that held sway over Jesus’ Palestine, mustard was a sign of power known for its healing properties. It had to be crushed and ground to become a medicinal salve.
Jesus compared the God Movement (as Clarence called it) to a tiny mustard seed that grows and grows. Oh, that the mustard will take over our garden. There is no promise it will be easy —mustard seeds have to be crushed before they can heal. This Easter may we have those full hearts of transformed disciples of which Clarence Jordan wrote and may the loving revolution spread. And on days our hearts aren’t full, let’s search for a little more mustard. May it be in us, may it spread out from us, and may it heal us all.
Happy Easter, everyone.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
There are more than a few thoughts rattling around in my mind. Koinonia Farm has turned 75 and next week (March 8-11) we are taking four days to celebrate. The Clarence Jordan Symposium kicks off at the farm with Pre-Symposium workshops. At the end of that day, we travel into town for the Symposium opening at the First Baptist Church and it closes Saturday evening at the First Methodist Church with a whole lot of activity going on in between. Sunday will find us back at the farm enjoying the Koinonia Family Reunion and Birthday Party. Yes, my head feels like one gigantic “to do list.”
But I have been living this life at Koinonia long enough now that I know what to do — I get out of my head and into my heart. When I am drowning in the myriad of detail — and likely taking myself far too seriously — I stop. I find quiet whether it be external or internal. I sit down or go for slow walk. I let my thoughts and my heart wander for a while.
What I find in the heart today is a sense of wonder about Koinonia Farm. This place and its people have been through many ups and downs. How have we made it to 75 years? My heart bumps into lyrics from a Beatles song — “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Then it wanders into the Gospel of Luke.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. In my fifteen years here , I have witnessed the tender mercy offered to everyone. Tender compassion runs through the veins of the farm. It is not that we wouldn’t be compassionate people elsewhere, but there is something special here. Some would call it God’s Holy Spirit.
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Humility does not always come easy. We often quote Abraham Lincoln, “Don’t I defeat my enemy when I make him my friend?” Koinonia is about building relationships, not tearing them down. Sometimes we stumble, but we are quick to stand back up. Koinonia is about friendship and sisterhood and brotherhood.
Forgive and you will be forgiven. Ahhhhh, there is no shortage of opportunities to forgive one another and ourselves. We live in a world of humans. We work to intentionally forgive. We try not to let hurts fade into scars, but to approach others to say, “I’m sorry” and to seek reconciliation.
Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. I wonder if John Lennon and Paul McCartney were inspired by this passage when they wrote, ““the love you take is equal to the love you make.” The love at Koinonia Farm is tangible. Love is given even when there is little else to give. For many of our 75 years we have struggled financially. But we freely give our most abundant resource — love. And it is returned to us and we keep going.
That love is what we’ll be celebrating next week. Whether you will be with us or not, we send you our love. Thank you for sending yours.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
Steve is a novice in our community. He often reminds me of that familiar line:, “He is wiser than his years.” In Steve’s case it is absolutely no cliché. I especially love his chapel talks. Recently, he gave one on the Parable of the Sower and once again I benefited from his wisdom.
These days at Koinonia, Steve oversees the vegetable gardens so he certainly knows something about sowing seeds. Perhaps because of this, the sower in this parable caught my imagination. Steve is a good preparer of the soil. He is not so silly as to scatter seed on the paths where we walk or on rocky ground or among the thorns. He nurtures the soil by feeding it with compost tea. He works with that hard, sticky, red Georgia clay and turns it into a more receptive and hospitable environment for the seeds soon to be sown. He takes away rocks and he pulls weeds. He waters the ground.
As I was reflecting about Steve as sower and listening to what he was sharing with us, I was struck by the thought, “He is a good preparer of the soil of our souls.” We all have our failings, our thorns and our stones. We can be full of weeds. Each of us has the responsibility to work the soil within our own souls. Steve reminded us of the need for discipline to do the necessary work. We are to make time for prayer and spiritual reading in the privacy of our homes.
But he also gave me the insight that in community, as sisters and brothers, we are to help work the soul soil of the other. Steve has many a time supported me in removing a rock or grabbing a handful of weeds within my own soul and pitching them. Koinonia is a place where the Word is sown throughout each and every day communally — at chapel in the morning, at meals, at Gathered Worship. Koinonia is a place where we work the physical land and we work the soul land. By working the soil of both, the yield just may be what we hope for or beyond.
Steve is a sower who prepares the soil well and because he does, God’s Word has a chance to take root.
And that is a very good thing.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
I Love Baseball
If you’re from Houston, Texas like I am, this has been a great year to love baseball. What a Christmas gift the Houston Astros gave to the city and to fans far and wide. Here at Koinonia I’m known for using baseball metaphors. The Astros have inspired me to do so even more in 2017. Bear with me.
Baseball is spiritual. It’s all about coming home. It’s a great metaphor about life and about dying. Baseball is full of sounds. I love them all — the crack of the bat as it makes contact with the ball, the crunch of cleats as the runner sprints for first, the thud of the shoe as the player rounds the base and oh, the roar of the crowd as he races for home. Getting home … that’s what it’s about, but how often does it happen? Someone who bats around .300 is considered a good hitter. That means two thirds of the time the hitter is out, she has failed. She may hit the ball, but someone catches it or someone throws it to a base she’s trying to reach. Maybe it’s a force out or maybe he’s tagged, but he’s out. But there is going to be another turn at bat. There is the thrill of another chance. Those who hit at the top to the middle of the order often get four at bats in a game. Four chances to hit. Baseball is such a hopeful game.
Jesus is even more hopeful than baseball. There is an icon that’s a favorite among Christians belonging to the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Churches. It depicts Christ descending into the world of the dead, setting captives free even to the point of finding Adam and Eve and pulling them out of their graves. The truth the artist conveys is Christ reaching all the way back to our human beginnings. Reaching even through death for everyone — all of us.
Jesus is clear — “Love one another.” Loving one another is about dying to self. In baseball there’s something called a sacrifice. A runner is on first base. To get him to second, the batter bunts the ball. She lays down a sacrifice. The hope is the runner gets to second and into scoring position even though the batter is likely thrown out at first. Or a runner is on third. The batter lifts a long, high fly ball, but the outfielder catches it. That’s all right. The batter is out, but the runner tags third base and makes it home ahead of the throw to the plate.
Loving one another is about making sacrifices for one another. Many seem to be in touch with this in a special way during Christmas time. It seems we are more trusting, more cooperative and more forgiving. The light is just a bit brighter this time of year. Read the Scripture readings of these days — Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, poor shepherds, angels, well-to- do wise men and even John in the womb point to this baby named Jesus.
Jesus shows us how to live. We keep going up to the plate even when we fail two thirds of the time. We don’t stop trying. The bat meets the ball, we see the ball going, going, gone; we touch all the bases. If we strike out, well … if Jesus came and pitched his tent with us and if Jesus reached, as depicted by that artist in the icon, for Adam and Eve in the grave, isn’t he reaching for us? Always. His longing for us never ceases — strike out or homerun.
I love baseball. Houston waited a long time. I love Christmas. We wait all year. Jesus is always reaching no matter the season. Merry Christmas.